Sunday, October 25, 2009

My first week with an Android phone - Samsung Galaxy i7500

It's almost a week since I got my first Android based phone a Samsung Galaxy i7500 and so I decided to write a few things of what has happened these last few days.
But before the “dirty” tech details a few words about the process that got me there.

For a few months now I have been looking for a new phone,partly because my (t)rusty Qtek 9000, Windows Mobile 6.1 phone has started showing its age,partly because I was interested in looking into mobile phone development in the new platforms that have been around for a while.
As you expect the candidates were 2.
iPhone 3G(S) from Apple and an Android based phone with the iPhone having some advantage.

So I started looking around the net to see what is need it to get into programming these 2 platforms and what the dev communities say.
(I had some experience in mobile device programming both in the Microsoft Mobile and Linux, on the Neo Freerunner phone sometime in the past, but not with the new technologies that have come up since.)

To my “surprise” I realized that in order to get into iPhone development you had to be on a Mac platform (at least when I was doing my Googling, things change fast) and you had to have Apple's “blessing” if you wanted to get your application in the Apple store... Hmmm

No one can deny that Apple has some really good products and technologies but after I have “seen the light” with Open Source I really dislike the vendor lock-in.
Don't get me wrong Apple fans, as I said, the products are great but if another company (say Microsoft) had pulled the same “tricks” Apple is pulling on Palm for example, people with pitchforks would be camped outside the Microsoft HQ asking for heads to roll...

So after deciding not to go the Apple way, the next question was... “which Android based phone ?”

A lot more Googling and visits to the local wireless operator shops (I am in Greece) to find the phone.
The result.
Most of the Android phones in the (Greek) market were HTC based and hovering in the 500 Euro range, but what caught my eye was the Samsung i7500.
The AMOLED screen looked fantastic and the specs were great, (although the RAM was a bit on the “low side”) and had all the bits and pieces to use it both as a dev platform and “normal” phone.
The only thing I missed (at that time) was the keyboard, which was a great additions and the main reason I have kept my Qtek for so long.

So I got the phone, and started my journey into the world of Android and Samsung i7500.

The good stuff first...

The AMOLED screen is really great :)
The Android Market (Thank you Apple for the idea ) is really cool. I wondered how we lived without “application stores” so long :)
The design of the phone was great although "plastic" in finish.

And the bad stuff...

Power management with the default firmware sucks, big time...
There is no VPN support (at least with the Cupcake version the phone was shipped)
Tethering is not supported
The 5 MPixel camera has some serious lag issues
The default browser has file uploads disabled for “security reasons”
If you try to sync your Outlook contacts you need...Google (mail,calendar etc)
The control software (Samsung New PC Studio) shipped with the phone runs only on Windows and DOES NOT support firmware updates of the phone (what the Samsung people were thinking ???!!!)

Let's see them in more detail

After charging overnight and started using the phone, with all systems up (wifi,3G,bluetooth,GPS) I noticed that the battery was draining fast. At the beginning I thought it was because it was a new battery and LiIon batteries need a few charging cycles before the “settle” to their peak.

After a couple more days and several charging cycles I decided to shutdown all the wireless and leave only the GSM part of the phone on. Same thing.
Did more Googling, found out that others had the same problem and the problem was the firmware and it had to be updated..
But wait... The Samsung New PC Studio says I have the latest firmware (and does not even recognize the phone when going for an update)
More Googling...
The version of the PC Studio Samsung ships with the phone.... can not updated it.... need newer from the German Samsung side...
Download, install, reboot,phone recognized this time, but no new firmware....Dito again.
More Googling....
Need a 3rd party program and a firmware image people have literally hacked out of the Samsung site.
Done it, and phone works as it should (3 days now with no re-charge)
/me Thanks Samsung for having to spend a day looking for all these.

Next task....

Move my contacts from the Windows Mobile based phone to the Android one...
(Still trying to)
Well it looks that unless you use Google services and upload all your contacts and calendar data there, you are in for the long ride...

Tried to take some photos with the 5 Mpixel camera the phone has...
Disappointed... The camera lag is such that you have to press the shutter button a couple of seconds in advance... Forget those fast moving fotos...

Ok managed to take some pictures, let's try to upload them to Twitter using the web application of TwitXL...
The Upload button of the page was disabled by the buildin browser, Hmmm so I need an application like the iPhone does ? At least they have an 'explanation' that their system does not have a “filesystem” , what about Android ? (Must be the first Linux based filesystem-less system)

Wanted to do a VPN with the office, (free wifi access points are nice, but do you want all our data unencrypted over wifi ? I don't.) no luck either...
Android 1.5 (Capcake) does not have VPN support, 1.6 (Donut) has.
There is no “official” Samsung image with Donut for the moment, but the good people of the dev community have came up with solutions of their own (this is were Open Source makes all the difference)

What's the verdict after all these ?
The phone was not ready for the market... I think Samsung has pushed it out the door, to get into the “Google Wave” with little or no QC
If a non technical inclined person gets his/her hands on this phone they will return it for service in the next few days... not good, unless of course the market you are after are the “techies” like me, that can swift through pages and pages of forums and blogs looking for the little piece of info to fix it...

Android has potential, but still needs a lot of work and refinement if its going to be in “peoples” phones and not just for the techies.

BTW if you are new to the Galaxy i7500 and strangling with the same issues, this link can help (at least it did in my case)